PINELLAS PARK — East Lake overcame a Countryside comeback and the elements Thursday night to capture its first district championship since 2011 with an 8-7 win.
The third-seeded Eagles pounded out 14 total hits and led by as much as 8-2 in the third inning, but needed each and every one of those runs to hold off No. 1 Countryside in a driving, seventh-inning rain.
“I am so proud of them,” said East Lake coach Kristie Delk. “They’ve come together as a team and they’ve played like this the past two weeks. I can’t ask for a better effort all the way around. Everybody was involved – pitching, defense, hitting – it was a total team effort.”
With the potential tying run standing at second base, Eagles sophomore pitcher Diana Rayder struck out Brittany Creamer on a letters-high, full-count fastball to end it.
“I’ve never done anything like that, no,” Rayder said of pitching through the rain that briefly suspended play with one out in the bottom of the seventh. “It was intense, it was incredible, it was so many things.
“It wasn’t about not thinking about the rain. The rain was obviously there, so it was just about getting through it.”
Equipped with a mini-rosin bag in her back pocket, Rayder had just enough grip to shutdown Countryside’s comeback one run short.
East Lake (15-7) set the tone early Thursday night at Class 7A District 9 tournament host Pinellas Park High. Three batters in to the title game and the Eagles were up 3-0 when senior shortstop Ashley Bonalewicz sent a 3-run shot to center field.
Both lineups took full advantage of Thursday’s steady out-blowing wind that helped three balls clear the outfield fence and other would-be outs find the turf.
The second of those long balls came in immediate response to Bonalewicz’s shot. C-Side first baseman Keeley Mayers launched a 2-run homer to center in the bottom of the first.
The Cougars (20-7) nearly matched East Lake’s offensive output Thursday, with Mayers’ four-hit night leading an 11-hit team effort. The Eagles had a little bit more, though, and a five-run, six-hit third inning provided the separation they needed to win.
East Lake’s three senior starters came up big to power its third inning. Bonalewicz started the rally by roping a double to left-center, Katie Shoulta drove in two with double to left that chased C-Side starter Alyssa Queen and Hannah Roberts smacked a 2-run home run to center. The inning’s fifth-and-final run came around to score when leadoff hitter Aliyah Andrews slapped an RBI single to left to score Haley Michael.
Andrews went 4-for-5 despite dislocating a finger while sliding into second for a stolen base in the first inning. Maddie Bertisch collected three hits and Bonalewicz and Michael had two apiece.
Cougars relief pitcher Stella Preston and the Countryside defense kept the game within striking distance with two huge, bases-loaded, inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth.
The Cougars tacked on a run in the third and two in the fifth to cut East Lake’s lead to 8-5 leading up to the final inning’s tense, rainy ending.
Both teams now move on to play in next week’s region quarterfinals.
East Lake, making its ninth straight playoff appearance, will host District 7A-10 runner-up Bradenton Braden River next Thursday at 7 p.m.
Countryside, in the postseason for the third consecutive year, must travel Thursday to Bradenton Lakewood Ranch.
EL - 305 000 0 --- 8-14-2
CS - 201 020 2 --- 7-11-2
LP – Stella Preston (3-2)
Ashley Bonalewicz – 2-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 2B
Aliyah Andrews – 4-for-5, 1 RBI, 1 SB
Diana Rayder – W, 7.0 IP, 7 R, 4 ER, 11 H, 4 K, 2 BB
Maddi Bertisch – 3-for-4, 1 R
Hannah Roberts – 1-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 HR
Keeley Mayers – 4-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 2B
Samantha Sharpe – 2-for-3, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Stella Preston – L, 4.0 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 8 H, 1 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP
Erin Jankiewicz – 1-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 2B